What Being a Disaster Service Worker Means to Ryan Gabriel

In Ryan Gabriel’s 17 years with the SFPUC, he has learned a great deal of understanding the City and Bay Area’s water infrastructure operations and building his experience in emergency response. Throughout his career, Gabriel has learned the ability translate and expand these skillsets and apply them to other types of incident response.

“I have learned to effectively work with different types of staff, make sound decisions while under pressure, and utilize all resources and information available to influence an outcome – all skillsets needed to be an effective Disaster Service Worker,” he says.

In “normal” times, Gabriel’s primary job function is focused supporting San Francisco’s water supply. He firmly believes in the agency’s mission to safely and reliably provide sustainable, high quality water service to customers 24/7. Gabriel said that people need to have a reliable water supply to wash their hands, flush toilets, and clean their clothes, especially as they spend more time at home.

All City and County of San Francisco employees serve as disaster service workers (DSWs) when there is a local emergency. “It is my duty to ensure the safety and health of the people of San Francisco. It is also my responsibility to provide support at all levels of government when called upon,” Gabriel says.

Even though these days aren’t considered “normal” times anymore, Gabriel shares that regardless of how people are going about their everyday normal lives and while they are sheltering-in-place, people still need reliable water service. “They need to have safe drinking water available to them so they can drink it without getting sick. It takes a village to make all of this happen, and this village is the City Distribution Division,” he says. “I am proud and honored to be working for a group of people who support this cause for the people of San Francisco.”

Ryan Gabriel, SFPUC Acting Manager of Water Operations for the City’s Distribution Division.

In February as the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM) was looking to expand its support for the City’s response to COVID-19, they enlisted help from experienced DSWs to assist with relieving and cross-training with other staff, particularly in the area of Operations Support. The SFPUC’s leadership looked to its staff with backgrounds and experience in both operational support and emergency management response to support emergency operations center (EOC) staffing for the long-term. Based on his experience and background, Gabriel was quickly identified and deployed to the EOC.

“I was more than happy to assist with the effort based on my experience working within the Operations Section of the Water Enterprise –  City Distribution Division,” he shares.

Gabriel served as the Operations Section Chief, where he managed the four branches within the section: Health and Human Services, Public Safety, Community and Transportation. As the scope of the COVID-19 response continued to grow, the EOC management team made the decision to open up a fifth branch within the Operations Section, the Infrastructure Branch, which focused on objectives related to supporting continued operations of “lifeline” agencies (e.g. water, power, sewer, etc.). There, he served as Branch Coordinator and cross-trained new DSWs as they came in to support the EOC.

“Working in the EOC was quite an experience,” he says. “The EOC management and supporting staff has been doing a stellar job. It was a wonderful opportunity and experience to work alongside DSW staff from the different City agencies, each bringing their own level of expertise in emergency response and coordination.”

Ryan Gabriel (right) with SFPUC Emergency Planning Manager Josh Gale (left) serving in the City’s emergency operations center when it was located on Turk Street.

Gabriel shares how he also had the opportunity to work alongside fellow SFPUC staff members at the EOC that he normally would not have worked directly with under his current job role. “Stress and energy levels were very high within the EOC during a Citywide emergency event as big as the COVID-19 incident,” he shares. “But I found that DEM staff have been very supportive and served as an effective and wonderful resource in providing guidance to new DSW supporting staff such as myself.”

Gabriel recommends that all DSWs should have an opportunity to work at and support the EOC. He says that serving in the City’s EOC offers is a unique atmosphere where people with different skillsets come together for a common cause to ensure the health and safety of the people of San Francisco as their number one priority.

“I am a firm believer that all DSWs can contribute and play a critical role at the EOC,” he says. “Whether it’s serving as a branch coordinator, delivering food to shelters in need, distributing greatly needed supplies, protecting the public, and educating the citizens of San Francisco throughout the duration of the incident.”